“Avatar” is the story of an ex-Marine who finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people.
Q: How did Sweeney Todd come about for you? A: “It’s something that Tim and I had talked about for a long time. We first talked about doing it years and years ago. Then it all kind of came together. Tim’s outdone himself this time. It’s a great script, a great cast, great director, great music and one not very good singer – me!”
Q: Were you nervous having to sing as well as act? A: “I think for an actor it’s so important to challenge yourself and I believe it’s important to be potentially teetering on the brink of absolute flopdom because otherwise you’re just sort of there. It’s easy to become complacent and sort of stick to a formula and say, ‘Well, this is my niche and this works and so I can stay in this and safely, as the clock is ticking, do my work and get out while I can.’ So I mean, who knows, I might be a horrible singer, but that might work for the character. You never know.”
Q: Do you sing at home – like in the shower? A: “God, no. Never. I wouldn’t inflict that on my family. The only thing I did do while preparing for this movie was I would sing in the car. I would listen to the music for Sweeney over and over again and sing along just to get it right in my head. But I didn’t have a singing coach. I recorded the songs with an old friend of mine, Bruce Witkin, who I used to be in bands with years ago. It was just him, me and a microphone.
Q: Do you think this character is going to scare off all the fans you made from Pirates of the Caribbean? A: “It is a radical change, that’s for sure. But I’m not trying to scare people away. The challenge for me is taking a character like that and attempting to make people feel for him, at the same time that he’s slashing people up. It’s not easy but I certainly hope it came across that way.”
Q: How hard was it filming Sweeney’s really cutthroat scenes with all that blood? A: I remember everyone except me being covered in plastic trash bags. There’d be a countdown. Three, two, one…action! And then blammo, you know? The great deluge. The process we shot in called for a slightly over-the-top kind of colour. They were going to de-saturate it later, so they had to bring the colour up on the set. It was kind of orange-ish. A very unnatural-looking colour. It tasted kind of syrupy. It was oily and it was dangerous. Slippery. You’d see these big English grips, tiptoeing through the swamp of blood. Very surreal.”
Q: Sacha Baron Cohen plays another barber in Sweeney Todd. What’s he like when he’s not ‘Borat’ or ‘Bruno’ or ‘Ali G’? A: “He’s not what I expected. I didn’t look at those characters and think, ‘This will be the sweetest guy in the world.’ He’s incredibly nice. A real gentleman, kind of elegant. I was impressed with him. He’s kind of today’s equivalent of Peter Sellers.”
Q: You’ve worked with Tim Burton on so many movies and been friends for so long. Do you two ever fall out and argue? A: No. We’ve never had an argument. With Tim, I just don’t want to let him down because, you know, he’s a brother. He’s my family. So that’s one of the scariest sorts of things initially. Just making sure I haven’t disappointed Tim. Once we get through that then I can kind of make sure I’m okay with it.”
Q: Do your kids watch your films? A: “Yeah. My whole family went to see ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. I hadn’t seen it. I was waiting at home, and they came back. And my daughter came up and went, ‘You’re really weird.’ I knew then, Okay. I’m okay. I’m all right.
Q: Have you watched it with them? A: “No. I still haven’t. I find it so difficult to watch anything I’m in. I don’t like to be aware of myself in that way. I love discovering moments on the set. But I can’t stand the idea that I have to see it later. I truly feel like it’s none of my business. There’s always that moment of, Well why did I do that? What the f— were you thinking? It’s horrible, seeing myself. Once they say, ”You’re wrapped,” you just walk away. Walk away and keep walkin’.”
Q: How does your children watching your films affect your relationship with them?
A: “Does it affect my relationship with them? Not as much as you might think because to them it’s normal and it’s all they’ve ever known, seeing poppa on television or on the DVD cover. So they’ve never not had that. It’s not weird to them at all. They can go from sort of watching the movie to the dinner table and not mention the film at all. Then again, there are other times where my daughter might say, ‘What was that line in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” about the hep cats and the motorbike riders and stuff? Will you do the voice?’ And I’ll do it and she’ll say thanks and we move on to the next thing.”
Q: Is it true you play with Barbie dolls a lot? A: “I have had some very good situations with different Barbies and Kens. So yeah, I’ve played with a lot of Barbies for my kids. It’s actually one of the only things I am good at. What’s nice is, now that my son is growing up, I get to do the boy stuff; Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman.”